Jean-Claude Van Damme interview

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Hollywood action star Jean-Claude Van Damme loves Hong Kong. It’s official. As the Muscles from Brussels prepares to headline a new film in the city, he tells Matt Fleming we’re about to see much more of him. Portrait by Calvin Sit

When a mere mortal extends an elastic band to its maximum length and aims it at your testicles, you start to fear for your future in terms of fertility. But when it’s 52-year-old Hollywood action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme, still sporting rock-hard biceps, who’s locked and loaded, it’s a pretty terrifying experience. He looks at me and grins. “Do you see where I’m aiming?” he asks before his phone rings, his attention is thankfully diverted and he doesn’t let go of the catapult. My nuts – and my dignity – remain intact. That’s one hell of a way to break the ice. The Muscles from Brussels is in a pretty ballsy mood when he touches down in Hong Kong.

JCVD visits the fragrant harbour on a whistlestop tour to find actors, crew and locations for a forthcoming movie, which starts production towards the end of the year. The Belgium-born martial arts filmstar has owned properties in Hong Kong since the 80s – when his career took off with Bloodsport (1988) before later smashes like HK-set Double Impact (1991), Universal Soldier (1992) and Street Fighter (1994) saw his name etched in martial arts movie history – and he says he has a home in Kowloon. He’s expecting to be here a lot more in the coming months. “I love Hong Kong and I want to be a part of it,” he says. We’re looking forward to seeing how that pans out.

The film itself, which JCVD is doing in partnership with worldwide TV network, Fashion TV, doesn’t even have a script yet. But Van Damme, along with Fashion TV founder Michel Adam, reckons the US$40 million flick – with a working title of Luxury Meets Justice – is going to ‘unite East and West’, ‘show international luxury and glamour’ and be ‘flavoured with a little Asian tradition’. There’s Mongolian history, falcons, a James Bond glitzy feel, white-collar megacriminals, a dead father, an old hero played by Van Damme and a young Chinese martial arts star he trains up played by a rising (probably Chinese) martial arts champ all being muted. “You’re going to see Hong Kong [in the movie],” says Van Damme. “You’re going to see the lights and the glitz.”

Originally a champion karate fighter, Van Damme says the production team is looking for young fighters in China – ‘growing stars’ – who may be champs in MMA, kickboxing or Muay Thai but also can stick to ‘the spirit of Chinese boxing and wushu’. The talented new kid on the block could come from Hong Kong, in fact. “I’ll go and spar with them,” he says. “I’m not afraid, as a movie star, to go into the ring and spar, so they know I’m the real deal. We can shoot some of the film in Macau – a kickboxing fight, for example. We will have lots of luxury involved, with tycoons, millionaires, yachts, private jets and lots of stories inside the stories, full of detail, with a love story with friendship and sadness.” 

But it’s Van Damme’s Hong Kong ambitions we’re even more interested in. The star, whose brother lives in Sai Kung, says he loves the city for ‘the people, the food and the vibe’. He says it’s ‘unique’. He’s looking for ‘good scripts’ in Hong Kong – but not business, per se. He says: “I’m really a potato when it comes to business. I mean I’m not a good businessman. I can act, but business – I don’t have that type of mind.”

And Van Damme, who was a bad guy in last year’s The Expendables 2 and is pencilled in to play a similar role in next year’s The Expendables 3, also loves Hongkongers. He says that as soon as you finish your sentence when talking to a Hongkonger they immediately have an answer – different to other places in the world, he claims. “It’s the speed, the action, the way the Chinese they are thinking. It’s fast,” he says. “I need my Hong Kong dose.”

JCVD, who says he’d like to be known as ‘the Kong of Hong Kong’ here as opposed to the ‘Muscles from Brussels’, clearly loves the fragrant harbour. He says local stars like Donnie Yen are ‘amazing’, as are Hong Kong’s talented directors of photography. He does admit he’s now an older martial arts filmstar – but he certainly wants to nurture young talent. And perhaps he can do just that in our city. “I think Hong Kong, Asian, Chinese people, they will accept me okay in their heart,” he says.

So we’re going to see more of the ‘Kong of Hong Kong’ in the near future. Be it for Luxury Meets Justice, for nurturing local talent or just for the suits-Van-Damme-nicely lifestyle. We just hope he steers clear of elastic bands while he’s here…

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